The Importance of Play

One of the things working with children has taught me, is just how important it is to make time for play. It doesn’t matter how old you are. Play is an essential part of leading a happy and fulfilling life. It seems like once we reach a certain age we think we are “too old” to be “wasting time” on such frivolous affairs. We can often even be mocked or looked down upon by those in our peer group or older generations for not “growing up” or “learning to act our age.” For some reason, as a society, it seems like we find unpleasant, but necessary tasks to be more worthy of our time than tasks that actually bring us enjoyment or pleasure. The irony is, when we are doing mundane “adult” things, it is ultimately to preserve and ensure our future happiness. So if happiness is the goal no matter what we’re doing, why always put it off in some distant future if we are capable of having simple pleasures right now as well?

I think one of the reasons a lot of adults tend to enjoy spending time with children even if they are not their own, is because they remind us how delightful it can be to play and pretend. Even just watching them do so can have a calming, pleasant effect on us. We are sometimes able to live vicariously through these children. As a child, I loved to play with little figurines and have pretend adventures and scenarios with them. Some days I would fill up the sink and they would have a “pool” day. Or we would go outside and they would go hiking or camping in the weeds. I’d collect small flowers and berries for them. These were some of the happiest times in my life. Back then, time didn’t matter. It hardly seemed to exist. I didn’t ask myself why I was doing the things I did. It didn’t matter. I was happy. Wasn’t that reason enough? Things seemed so much simpler back then.

I distinctly remember one day begging my mother to play with me. She did her best, but was mostly just watching me. I asked her why she wasn’t doing anything. She told me that she couldn’t remember what she was supposed to do. She had actually forgotten how to play. I vividly remember the confusion and disbelief I felt at the time. How can you not know how to play? It made no sense, but I felt sorry for her. It seemed impossible that I could ever forget something like that. Yet here I am over a decade later with no idea how I occupied so much time with my make believe. It breaks my heart each time I sit down with the kids I work with at a doll house and struggle to come up with anything to do. I want to weep for that inner child that has become all but lost to me.

I’ve learned that play is something that takes practice. Thankfully I am surrounded by children every day that can help me with that practice. Just the other day a little 5-year-old boy and I played robbers together. He had us talk in deep, gravely voices as we planned our heist. Then we ran around the waiting room, laughing maniacally as we clutched our fake money. It was a great time. Even though it’s hard to have such boundless, imaginary play as an adult, I have still been trying to implement more creativity and structured play into my days. Playing for me now mostly includes casual video gaming and art.

Even though I acknowledge that this play is worthwhile, it is still hard for me to justify the time I spend on it (even though it isn’t much.) I am constantly giving myself chores to do before I feel alright allowing myself time to just enjoy and have fun. Unfortunately, by the time I reach the evening hours I’ve set aside for it, I am too exhausted, stressed, and listless to really even enjoy my playtime. Another problem I run into is getting too serious about whatever it is I’m doing. When I began drawing (and even writing) everyday, my only goal was to schedule time for myself to explore my creativity and just have fun. But now that these things have become a habit, I have been feeling a lot of pressure surrounding these activities. It has started to feel more like work than play.

With so many gamers now available to watch online, even my casual video games have started to feel like a burden rather than a joy. I can’t help watching others play and then comparing my progress in the game to theirs. I feel rushed, inadequate, unhappy with where I am. Even though I know it’s utterly ridiculous, I can’t seem to help feeling this way. Often times this feeling is so strong that I give up on the game all together. I hope that by continuing to challenge these feelings I will be able to overcome them little by little. I hope I will be able to transform this playtime into something similar to meditation. Rather than focus on how my art compares to other’s or how far behind I may be in a virtual world, I will keep working to focus on my breath, on the pleasure I feel in the moment.

Living in a society so focused on production and outcomes, it can be hard to find the value in simple experiences. What once were things I looked forward to have started to become things I feel anxious about. I feel pressured to make each drawing better than the last. I criticize myself for not being creative enough or improving fast enough or consistently enough. I feel like what I write is just rambling nonsense no one cares about. That my art isn’t worth showing anyone. But even if those things were true, it wouldn’t matter! I must keep repeating to myself that the point isn’t the final product, it’s the pleasure of the process. What I create or work on doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t even have to be good. As long as I’ve enjoyed the time I spent working on it, that is all that matters.

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Channeling Your Inner Child

I saw a post on Tumblr the other day that said: I think the key to a happy life as an adult woman is to channel your inner weird little girl and make her happy. There is so much truth behind those words. Without realizing it, I have been doing exactly that. By setting goals for myself to write and draw everyday, I am actually giving myself permission to enjoy the hobbies I use to enjoy as a young girl. For as long as I can remember I loved to create through these two mediums of artist expression.

Even though I have already been unwittingly following the advice of that post, doing it with a conscious intention of taking care of that strange little girl inside me, makes it feel all the more special and rewarding. At some point as I began to grow up, I started to need a reason behind everything that I did. Which seems strange to me, given that ultimately nothing really matters except what you decide matters. Did I have a reason to play Pokémon and Hamtaro for hours? Was there a good reason for printing out stacks upon stacks of Sailor Moon pictures I found online to color? Was there a purpose to all of the magical time I spent playing outside in nature with my sister and friends? Were these experiences any less important, any less meaningful, because I didn’t have a direct, practical goal in mind?

Perhaps this resistance to doing anything without a clear purpose is merely an excuse, a lingering symptom of mild depression. After all, what better reason is there than to make yourself happy? Sometimes it feels as though I’ve forgotten how to make myself happy, how to enjoy my life from one moment to the next. Only once I’ve begun a project, given myself the time to lose myself in it, do I feel true joy and freedom. It’s taking that first step that is always so very difficult. For example, most days I simply dread the idea of beginning my yoga and meditation practice. I contemplate cutting it short every time. But when I actually sit down and begin, it always becomes the very best part of my day. Despite this, that initial dread never seems to go away.

For a lot of my life, I relied on inspiration to spur me onward. Without it, I felt like there was no way I could continue with anything I was doing. However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that most of the time that inspiration follows rather than precedes my actions. Most days I have no idea what I want to write about when I sit down to begin. I never know what to draw in the evenings. Yet I’ve learned that if I just force myself to start, I can surprise myself with what I’m able to create. I think that is what art is all about, surprising ourselves. Most of my best creations were not the result of careful planning and intention. They were spontaneous accidents that allowed me to unconsciously share a piece of myself with the world that I didn’t even know was mine to share.

So when I’m struggling with that stubborn resistance before beginning something, I’ve found it very helpful to remind myself that this is a gift for my inner child. It’s almost like the joy you get from playing with a child, in fact. As an adult, you may not be very interested in the game itself at first, but to see the happiness and pleasure in that innocent little face makes it worthwhile. It makes me so happy inside to imagine my younger self in my place, happily typing away, working hard on stories that will never be published or even read by others. To imagine that little girl I once was drawing anime without a care in the world, her excitement at how good we’ve gotten at it.

Channeling my inner child is one of the best ways for me to remember how to be in the present moment. It reminds me how to enjoy for enjoyment’s sake. I am so grateful for the children I get to meet everyday at work. Their lighthearted energy has been a great help to me as I work to reconnect with the child within myself. I am able to see myself in them and remember what it was like to be the age they are now. They inspire me to keep the child in me alive, to keep her happy, to keep her close. It’s definitely something worth practicing.

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No Connection

The night before last, my internet connection suddenly stopped working at my house. Unfortunately my service is through Comcast, so it still hasn’t been fixed despite my attempts over the phone to receive assistance. At first, I felt utterly lost and helpless without YouTube and Netflix. While I do have data on my phone, I live in the middle of the woods so, as you might imagine, I don’t have great signal.

While this all is very inconvenient and frustrating, it has also been a blessing of sorts. Being forced off of the internet for over a day has been therapeutic. Initially, my stress level went through the roof, but after a while, I adapted. I dug out my old laptop with all of my saved music and video files to supplement my normal background noise. (Some habits are hard to let go of.) However, despite using my computer for ambient noise, without the internet offering up unlimited possibilities, I didn’t feel as tethered to my screens as I normally do.

In fact, it actually allowed me to spend a lot more time outside, where I want to be spending my time. Normally there is an internal struggle as I try to decide whether or not I want to pause my internet browsing to go do my yoga and meditation practice outside, or go for a run, or do yardwork. Even though I know how much I always end up enjoying myself when I am in the fresh air and sunshine, there is still a lot of anxiety around the act of putting down my technology to do so. Yesterday that struggles was gone. Why shouldn’t I go outside? Finally, there was nothing holding me back from the reawakening world outside my door.

It felt so good to feel the warm sun on my skin and smell the wind. I pulled up all the weeds from my flowerbeds, which I was surprised to find brought me great enjoyment. It was so delightful to feel the cool, damp earth and the soft, green leaves between my fingers. It’s easy to forget just how immersive the outside world can be. There is so much to explore and examine even in the relatively bland nature surrounding a house. No matter how much time you spend in the garden or the woods, there is always something new to discover. Yesterday I was overjoyed to come across a strange long blade of what appeared to be grass with a small plump green bulb dangling off its tip, as if barely connected at all. I have no idea what it is, but I’ll definitely be checking back in on that plant to try to find out.

For days now I have been anxiously dreading the chores I had to do in my yard, but somehow without the internet to beckon to me from inside, I had one of the best days I’ve had in awhile doing so. I was even enjoying myself so much that I ended up doing more than I planned on. I got out my weed whacker. I started some seeds for my garden. I set up some simple décor on my back porch. I cleaned off my trampoline and swept the sidewalk. I even strolled through my yard and collected patches of moss to put in my potted plants. Something I have been wanting to do for awhile in the hopes it will help the soil stay moist and suitable for my succulents.

All of this time spent outside, especially gathering the moss, left me feeling so happy. It reminded me of being a child again. I don’t know where I got the idea, but I used to imagine one day I’d be a flower arranger or design landscapes for gardens. In preparation for this, I would gather moss, wildflowers, pretty stones, and any other attractive, interesting things I could find around my yard and create small little arrangements with them. I like to think they were the original fairy gardens that have become so popular now. Finding myself outside gathering moss again allowed me to reconnect with that childlike wonder and joy that has remained dormant in me for so long.

Thanks to my yoga and meditation practice, what once would have been an absolute nightmare of an experience, leading me to a total meltdown with lots of hysterical crying and complaining, actually turned out to be something to be grateful for. It has even been empowering in a way. It feels good to know that I don’t have to rely on the internet for enjoyment and entertainment. I have more than enough within me to make my own contentment. It also reminded me of the peace that this lack of technology allowed. Things seemed quieter before the internet. My mind seemed less busy, less distracted. And with that focus, with that stillness, came a simple serenity that now seems lost to us.

While the internet and our other advancements in technology have made the world a better place in a lot of important ways, it has also robbed us of a lot of what we once had in life. Somehow by providing unlimited possibilities we have surrendered our freedom. I can’t help but wonder what the world might be like if it had stayed the way it was when I was a child. I have to imagine that my, if not everyone’s, mental health would be much better off. Perhaps humanity would have been able to remain at least a little closer to nature and one another than we are now.

I’d like to say that this experience will cause me to take regular breaks from my devices in order to remember this newfound freedom, but I don’t know that willpower alone will be enough to break those chains that tether me to technology. As for now, all I can say is I am in no hurry to fix my faulty internet connection. I am more than happy to spend a few more days disconnected.

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Learning to Ignore that Little Voice

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder. People with OCD perform rituals in order to keep their anxiety at bay. Many people with other anxiety disorders also do this, but to a lesser extent. I believe I am somewhere teetering on that edge. There is always that little anxious voice in my head whispering, rambling on. Telling me that I’m forgetting something. Saying there is something I should be worried about.

Most days I have a vague fear that there is something very important I am overlooking. One way of combating this momentarily is to make lists. Lists upon lists. It provides a few moments of relief. It feels like I have finally grabbed ahold of the thoughts swirling around inside my head driving me crazy. It is calming to know that they are somewhere tangible now. Somewhere they won’t be lost in a soup of psychosis. It affords me a certain sense of control. But it doesn’t last. No matter how many lists I make. Something always feels undone, forgotten.

One of the scariest things about mental illness is not knowing whether or not you can trust yourself. Most people follow their instincts, their intuition, with faith and conviction. But what if your intuition is misleading you? What if these instincts can’t be trusted? Now you are adrift. The only tools you have to gauge reality are faulty. Where can you go from here?

It is only natural for me to want to trust that sense of panic as it builds in my chest, telling me that something is wrong. Normally that feeling would be the difference between life and death. But in this strange new world we all live in, this feeling is misplaced. It is time I practice ignoring it instead. Rather than trusting my instincts, I’ve got to learn to trust my higher self. I need to stop letting these bodily sensations of panic keep making me doubt myself constantly.

Instead of letting myself run over all the reasons everything has been taken care of and accounted for again and again in an effort to dismiss my nerves, I am going to breathe deep. I am going to trust that I am okay, that I am capable of facing and overcoming any problems that may arise. I don’t have to be in control. I just have to be present. I just have to do my best. The feeling may never go away, but I can learn to live with it. I can teach myself that it’s okay to feel anxious. I am not required to respond to those feelings. It isn’t my job to make them go away. To “fix” whatever is causing the anxiety. Because this is a disorder. There is no “cause.” My anxiety is a part of me. A part that I can learn to live with rather than run from.

Anxiety is a cue. But I think I can decide what it is a cue for. Maybe instead of looking outside of myself for a way to alleviate that feeling, I can start going within. To “ignore” my anxiety sounds a little harsh. It is just a primal part of me, trying to do it’s best. Trying to protect me. But when I know I’m not in danger, when I know there is nothing to be done, perhaps I can use these feelings as a cue for some self-love instead. As a reminder to be gentle with myself. As a signal that says “check in with yourself.” My anxiety is the scared child inside of me. Rather than responding with frantic irritation or trying to brush it under the rug, I should try just being there with it, holding it’s hand. Taking a moment to tell myself, “I’m okay. Everything is okay.”

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Excited for Change

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As with everything else in this life, our perception of change is something that we get to choose. I think for most people we have a tendency to fear change or view it as a threat. Humans are, for the most part, creatures of habit. We become comfortable in our routines. Even if the routines themselves aren’t always pleasurable or good for us. We like to know what to expect from one moment to the next. Even when we are expecting the worst.

Better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t

Try to remember back to when you were a child though, before you were set in your ways and developed all sorts of expectations for the world and the other people in it. Change was exciting! Curiosity was a more powerful force than fear. We were desperate to learn and experience it all.

I’m not sure what precisely the ancient yogis intended when they created the phrase “beginner’s mind,” but this is what I imagine it to mean. A child’s mind. A mind that is open to everything, curious about everything. If only we could have all held on to that. Even so, just thinking back to my child self is quite pleasant and nostalgic. I used to be so happy and excited about the littlest things.

For example, I used to love to clean and organize. I even loved washing dishes the first few times I helped my grandmother with them. I paid attention to each little detail. The warm water, the white soap suds, watching the dirty pile shrink as the ones that were clean and drying grew. The satisfaction of completing a simple task. Whereas now my mind is a million miles away as I frantically scrub away at the glass and ceramic, trying to be done and on to the next thing as fast as humanly possible.

We tend to lose that presence, that mindful, curious wonder at everything in life as we grow older. And I think this is why we begin to fear and hate change. We don’t want any changes to force us out of our daze. We worry what these changes will mean for the future. We fear we’ve lost something, leaving our old ways behind in the past. We avoid being present and curiously examining change as it comes.

We take for granted the way things are and forget that we need change. Lest we fall prey to stagnation and decay. Change is the inevitable, beautiful, unfolding of life itself. A constant current that we are a part of. Something we should remember to be grateful for when we get the chance to witness it.

One of the ways I plan on preparing for a new year full of change is to adjust the way I perceive it. I’ve been thinking, “I’ve got to make these changes starting next year” or “it is going to be so hard to stop doing x, or start doing y.” From now on, rather than that, I am going to be thinking “how exciting, I get to try something new” and “won’t it be fun to see how these changes play out, to challenge myself?”

Even now I am getting excited by these thoughts. I am imagining my inner child, eager to experiment, to play, to learn, to experience something new. What a beautiful thing to know I have the power to write my story any way I like. We all do. So if there have been a lot of changes for you this year, or you have a lot of changes to face in the next, get excited! What a dynamic and interesting existence we all share! Let’s be present for it. Let’s enjoy it.

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Happy Hall-om-ween!

Even though I’m now 26 years old, I still love having an excuse to dress up for Halloween. This year I was lucky enough to have my weekly yoga class fall on the exact day! Some of my students may have found it corny or silly, but I had such fun adding spooky twists to the traditional poses this morning. (Spooked cat, alien abducted cow, spider fingers, haunted boat/bridge, thriller arms, etc.)

I am often someone who takes life a little too seriously. So it is important for me to remind myself to be goofy every once in awhile. I hope that my class today helped my students reconnect with their inner child and their imagination. No matter how old we get, we are all still sweet, playful, bright-eyed children somewhere inside. Make sure you take advantage of any chance you have to let that child out.